Image courtesy 20th Century 
Ralph Fiennes is Chef Julien Slowik and Anya Taylor-Joy is Margot in “The Menu”

Image courtesy 20th Century Ralph Fiennes is Chef Julien Slowik and Anya Taylor-Joy is Margot in “The Menu”

On the Screen: ‘The Menu’ serves up fun twists and earnest commentary

I was plenty interested in the film I saw in the trailers, but the one I saw at the theater was so much more

Marketing for “The Menu” makes it look like a horror film or a thriller. I was plenty interested in the film I saw in the trailers, but the one I saw at the theater was so much more.

“The Menu” largely follows Margot, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. She is brought into the unique Hawthorne restaurant by Tyler, played by Nicholas Hoult. Margot is an outsider. She isn’t even on the guest list — she’s a replacement for another woman who Tyler had bought a ticket for. Those tickets, for transport to the island and a seat at Hawthorne, cost more than $1,000. The pair join 10 other guests at the restaurant: three businessmen, an older woman, a wealthy couple, a food critic, her editor, an actor and his assistant.

The meal is prepared and presented by Chef Julian Slowik, played by Ralph Fiennes, and takes place over a variety of courses, each more outlandish than the last.

Tyler explains that Slowik’s meals all have a theme — a lesson or a narrative the diners are challenged to discover.

The courses are weird from the jump, like the breadless bread plate, but the first sign of trouble comes with the tacos, as the tortillas have images laser printed onto them showing financial, personal or ethical misdeeds by each of the attendees — with the exception of Margot. Things begin to escalate quickly, and the diners begin to suspect that they might not make it off the island.

The film is largely an examination of capitalism and the service industry, establishing a conflict between the served and the servers before upending itself and becoming something even more with a sense of genuine earnestness. With each twist the tension builds. But it isn’t like a horror movie, building toward a scare or a gruesome kill. It’s building toward the next course in the chef’s bizarre meal — the next opportunity for him to pontificate about art, talent and devotion.

The most interesting conflict in the film is the one between Margot and the chef, brought to life with electricity by stunning performances from Taylor-Joy and Fiennes. The chef challenges Margot to decide who she belongs with — the givers or the takers — while she pushes back at every turn by rejecting his food and his message.

Different courses of the meal play almost like vignettes, chapters disconnected from one another. A chase scene through the island’s woods, shown in the trailer, is simply another course of the meal — after which everyone returns to their seats for the next course. In another, Slowik delivers a monologue about a member of the support staff who has devoted his life to the chef. For all of his years of time and effort, Slowik says the man lacks the talent to succeed in his kitchen. In a show-stopping moment, the man turns himself into what Slowik calls a work of art — which is then cleaned up for the next course.

Each of the courses are introduced with on-the-screen text describing the course and its ingredients. These descriptions become increasingly unhinged as the night goes off the rails.

“The Menu” is a fun and twisty time at the movies, something entirely unique, though folks expecting something like a bloody slasher will certainly be let down. Its finale is more profound than action packed — but it was one of my favorite experiences at the theater this year.

“The Menu” will be playing at Kenai Cinema this weekend. Check showtimes and get tickets at

Reach reporter Jake Dye at

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